“There was no discussion that the harvest vessel or production fish would damage the reputation”

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There was a wide gap in understanding the importance of production fish as a reputation-building factor between the two former ministers of fisheries, Per Sandberg and Harald Tom Nesvik.

Just after Harald Tom Nesvik delivered his testimony, it was party colleague and minister Per Sandberg’s turn to testify in the lawsuit between the Norwegian government and shipping company Hav Line.

In court on Monday, Sandberg presented an almost diametrically different view of the importance of production fish and the legality of the use of the “Norwegian Gannet” harvest vessel than Nesvik.

Jobs
“There was nothing to indicate that there was anything wrong with this initiative. During the treatment at the Stortinget (Norwegian Parliament ed.) there was some scepticism, but there was no indication that there would be any regulation against this. The fear was based on processing jobs going out of the country,” Sandberg said.

A slightly sunburnt Sandberg, who now runs a piano bar, carried out the testimony by video conference, in the same way as Nesvik.

Sandberg was Minister of Fisheries, in the Solberg Government, in the period 2015 to late summer 2018.

“During the period you were Minister of Fisheries, were production fish and bug fixing (such as remove skin wounds ed.) topics that caught your attention?” asked Hav Line’s lawyer Karl O. Wallevik.

“No, I can’t remember having that subject on my table at all,” Sandberg said firmly.

A topic
“This reputation problem; was there anything that was discussed?” asked Wallevik.

“Reputation was a focus area every single day. It was a theme in almost every lecture I gave as Minister of Fisheries. It was a theme at the Stortinget (Norwegian Parliament). And this was something I talked about with the industry. But there was no discussion that the harvest vessel or production fish would damage its reputation. There was no direct link between reputation and production fish,” Sandberg replied.

Sandberg himself visited Hirtshals in 2017, where one of the subjects was the processing of fish in the northern Danish port city. There, he also met with Hav Line.

Strong follower
The former Minister of Fisheries, however, had limited knowledge of Hav Line and the forthcoming harvest vessel “Norwegian Gannet”.

“Before Hirtshals, reasonably little, but I probably had a statement in a newspaper that they in Denmark would cheer. And I said at the time that I was a strong supporter of this,” said Sandberg.

“Do you have any knowledge of the quality regulation paragraph 17?” Wallevik asked.

“No, no thorough knowledge of it, no. In the overall discussion of this, in the Stortinget, the great fear was related to job losses in Norway,” he replied.

Wallevik then asked if he had the impression that “Norwegian Gannet” was approved by the authorities.

“Politically, this was approved. So, if there came two boats, four boats or ten boats, was the assessment. But just the two boats that were planned then were approved”.

Quality and reputation
“Reputation is something quite different from working with production fish. Reputation is about the quality of the fish that is on the plate of the consumer. Whether one has open or closed cages, slaughterhouses or slaughter boats – everything boils down to the best quality. That’s crucial,” Sandberg said.

“Are you aware that you intervened and reversed matters such as the Authority’s decision on your own initiative?” asked Hav Line’s lawyer.

“Yes.”

“Was it ordinary or unusual?”

I’m a politician, so I think we should have done this more,” laughed Sandberg. “Ultimately, we’re the last appeal, so I did it sometimes. But it was not usual,” Sandberg replied on changing decisions taken by for example the Food authority.

“Do you have any thoughts on why Nesvik intervened in the case?” wondered Wallevik.

“No, I just have to state that I haven’t talked to Nesvik after he took over. New people are coming in. And then it is a question of how much one is influenced by Parliament, the Directorate and others. But for me, it was crucial when Hav Line had invested so much money in this. It would have a dramatic effect. The premises for Norwegian aquaculture were laid. Then it became dramatic, I thought back then,” Sandberg concluded.